DUP and Hermon clash over Brexit

Sylvia Hermon, the left-leaning independent unionist MP for North Down, has been drawn into a ferocious clash with the Democratic Unionist Party over Brexit, according to the News Letter.

Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s Westminster leader whose influence is growing as power shifts away from the non-existent Assembly, accused Lady Hermon of being “on the side of the Dublin government” on the issue of all-Ireland regulatory and customs policies.

This came during a debate on an amendment tabled by Lady Hermon to write a commitment to the Good Friday Agreement into the Withdrawal Bill, although she eventually decided not to force a vote. The North Down MP has warned that customs officials will be attacked by dissident republican terrorists if such infrastructure proves necessary at the border.

Speaking in the debate Owen Paterson, the former Northern Irish Secretary, stated that whilst he had great sympathy with the motivations behind the amendment it would hand too much power to judges.

Meanwhile, the Government’s frankly weird mishandling of the DUP during the search for a ‘form of words’ over the Irish border on Monday mean that the Northern Irish party now have ‘more direct involvement’ in the talks, according to Jim Shannon MP. Ministers nonetheless remain ‘absolutely optimistic‘ that a deal will be reached.

Finally, whilst of course Irish Twitter is quick to insist that electoral calculations have little to do with Dublin’s new and tougher stance on Brexit the Daily Telegraph reports that Leo Varadkar’s poll ratings have surged as a result, despite his administration being mired in scandal only a week ago.

Mundell signals Government retreat on Clause 11

Writing in the Spectator, Stephen Daisley castigates the Government for being prepared to compromise the integrity of the UK for the sake of Brexit.

His charge is that hard Brexiteers are so hell-bent on getting out from under Brussels’ thumb that they don’t care what harm is done to the Union in the process. This is certainly true of some, and it’s probably the most plausible interpretation of the decaying ‘Brexit is bad for the Union!” trope left to deploy if you’re determined to pin the blame on the Brexiteers.

But whilst the DUP thwarted this particular assault on the Union, at least as popular understanding has it, the Government indicated this week that it may be about to collude in another that could be even more damaging. But because those pushing for it are nice, moderate Remainer types, it appears to have slipped under Daisley’s radar.

David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, has said that the Government is going to amend Clause 11 of the Withdrawal Bill. This is the part which a broad coalition of separatists and devolutionaries – including, shamefully, some of the Scottish Tories – have branded a ‘power grab’ against the devolved administrations.

This position is constitutionally illiterate, as I have sketched out on this site and one of the authors of the Government’s position has laid out in detail in a paper for These Islands. It also, as I explained on Brexit Central, risks enormous damage to the Union and the UK single market.

Compared to the pace of politics, constitutions move in geological time. It would be perfectly possible for ministers to take an expedient course on Clause 11 today and leave their successors to inherit the unfolding, chronic damage it would cause. Any MP who supports the Union must be just as vigilant on Clause 11 as it is on an Irish Sea border with Northern Ireland.

Top civil servant to investigate claims that Welsh minister’s sacking was leaked

Wales Online reports that Dame Shan Morgan, the Permanent Secretary to the Welsh Government, will head an inquiry into allegations that the sacking of Carl Sargeant was leaked.

Leighton Andrews, a friend of Sargeant’s and one of Welsh Labour’s nationalists, suggested on his blog that a number of people knew about his dismissal before Sargeant himself did. If true, this could be (another) breach of the code of conduct by Carwyn Jones’ administration.

The First Minister is already under huge pressure after his botched handling of sexual misconduct allegations – which will not now be investigated, we learned this week – and the apparent suicide of one of his former ministers. He has been accused of prejudicing an inquiry into the former.

A source inside Welsh Labour has suggested to the Times that the decision to abandon the investigation indicated that Jones’ advisers “had attempted to construct a case to justify the sacking.”

Meanwhile, Labour have announced they won’t impose an all-woman shortlist on Sargeant’s former constituency. A friend of his had suggested he might run as an independent if he didn’t like the candidate, which must have reminded party bosses too much of the mid-2000s revolt in Blaenau Gwent.

Given that the Westminster seat is also a relatively close-run thing with the Conservatives, they may also have feared that a split vote – and the unwinding of Sargeant’s personal vote – might have risked the loss of a vital seat to Andrew RT Davies’ Tories.

Named Persons scheme ‘on brink of collapse’ after Holyrood stalls it

Another week, another blow to the Scottish National Party’s flagship scheme to appoint a public sector worker to oversee every child in Scotland, the Scotsman reports.

This latest blow comes after a committee of MSPs voted to “stall its passage into law”, delaying implementation by at least a year. The original plan was last year ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court.

After largely neutering Holyrood’s committee system during their majority administration from 2011 to 2016, for the Education Committee to follow up on its threat of last week suggests that the Scottish Parliament has recovered a couple of teeth.

Education is an especially significant battleground because the minister responsible is John Swinney, the former Finance Minister and one of Nicola Sturgeon’s key lieutenants.